2007-04-05 / Front Page

AHS robotics team revels in new season

BY JENNIFER KOHLHEPP Staff Writer

BY JENNIFER KOHLHEPP
Staff Writer

ALLENTOWN - Robots have been a source of joy this year for a team of Allentown High School students.

Redbird Robotics Team 1807 has been very busy in recent weeks. The team has competed in two FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) regional events and has shared their passion for robots with younger students during Upper Freehold Regional Elementary/Middle School's "Science Night Live," according to Chris Nalbone, the team's supervisor.

The team competed in the 2007 FIRST New Jersey Regional Competition in Trenton's Sovereign Bank Arena March 1-3. On the first day, the team uncrated its robot, along with the 56 other teams from New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maryland and as far away as Waialua, Hawaii, according to Nalbone.

The team passed a critical inspection and made it out onto the field for all five practice matches and scored in all but one match, when the robot's lift wire came loose, Nalbone said.

"We immediately corrected that, as well as reinforced several other vulnerable areas, making us ready for the qualifying-round matches," Nalbone said.

On the second day, Redbird Robotics competed in five qualifying matches and ended the day with four wins and one loss, and an 11th-place ranking, according to Nalbone.

On the third day, the team was the youngest team to be among the Elite Eight as it finished the qualifying rounds with a 5-1-1 record and an eighth-place finish, Nalbone said.

"This enabled us to participate in our first alliance selection process, where we relied on our loads of scouting data to assess which teams would best complement our style of play," he said.

Since the team would face the top-seeded alliance in the quarterfinal, it chose the two highest-rated defenders to form an alliance with Team 637 from Montville and Team 522, the defending World Champion RoboWizards from Staten Island, N.Y.

In quarterfinal match one, the team suffered a 136-34 loss. Match two was just too much of the offensive juggernaut from the Red alliance, according to Nalbone.

"In one of the most impressive performances of the tournament, we showed 'tenacious D' in holding them to only two ringers, and our alliance was able to pull out a 32-4 victory," Nalbone said.

For the second year in a row, Redbird Robotics was commended for safety, and during the final awards ceremony it was one of three schools selected by its peers and FIRST judges for demonstrating the principles of safety stressed by FIRST, Nalbone said.

At the FIRST New York City Regional Competition at the Jacob Javits Center, March 16-18, the team had an incredible time and again exceeded expectations, according to Nalbone.

"We finished the regional in fourth place out of 53 teams, won a grueling four-match quarterfinal round, and battled the top-seeded alliance in three thrilling semifinal games that came down to the final seconds," Nalbone said.

Some of the highlights of the event included the team receiving 45 safety tokens on the first day for its well-organized pit, scoring a team record 260 points in its opening match with partners from teams 354 and 1155, allying again with the RoboWizards for four successful qualifying matches, and having the 2006 World Champions personally award the team with the Best Alliance Partner at the 2007 New York City Regional award.

"We made many new friendships among the New York City FIRST community, and continued to demonstrate just how far we've come in only two years," Nalbone said.

During the closing awards ceremony, the judges described The Motorola Quality Award as celebrating machine robustness in concept and fabrication and then recognized Redbird Robotics as the quality standard for FIRST.

"We enthusiastically ran onto the field and proudly claimed this incredible prize," Nalbone said.

According to Nalbone, the team has engineered a robot that is much more complex than last year's robot and had very little go wrong with it over many intense days of battle.

The students got to show off their robot during "Science Night Live" on March 9 at the Upper Freehold Regional Elementary/Middle School, where it had a steady stream of future engineers participate in its Design Station, Build Station and Demonstration Station.

"We already recruited an eighth-grader and two high school students to join our team," Nalbone said.

The team would like to thank its volunteer mentors Ron Auth, Paul Benedict, Ed Dallas, Sal Diecidue, Pierre Menard and Steve Welle for their guidance and dedication, teacher Robert Wicks for coordinating team activities, and AHS Principal Christopher Nagy and the rest of the school administration for continuing to believe in the team and for introducing what technology does to complement the students' educational experience.

The team is also grateful to its sponsors for giving students "the opportunity to have such wonderful experiences," Nalbone said.

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